I have a term for technical evangelists who seem to get paid to fly around the country, stand around doing nothing at events (maybe talking for two minutes at the start over a couple slides), eat the food, man (or woman) a table, perhaps do some light networking and then depart to their next event: Pizza Evangelists. I call them this specifically because the only measurable outcome of having spent the money to send this person to an event is that there is less pizza at the event afterwards (and your company is out $5,000 dollars including sponsorship, flight, Uber and their hotel).
After supporting something like 50+ developer events over the last few years, it is my observation that Pizza Evangelism may not just be common but it may be the average form of technical evangelism being practiced in some parts of the industry. There are a number of reasons for this, not least of which is that many organizations have a poor concept of what technical evangelists are really even supposed to be doing at events (hint: driving adoption of your platform).
In the worst cases, this type of behavior is accepted due to no one really caring what goes on at the event in the first place or just wanting to maintain the appearance of “having covered” an event for political purposes. Really great technical evangelism is not about maintaining appearances, it is about helping developers succeed with measurable and documentable results.
If you view what technical evangelists seem to be doing from the perspective of a CEO (who think in terms of profits and losses), you are going to find a lot to hate. “Why would I pay this person to fly around the country, lavishly spending money on hotel rooms and sponsorships of hackathons and workshops if I am not seeing any ROI? I can’t even see what they are doing at these events!” Not a good line of thinking to be running through your CEO’s mind when things take a financial downturn.
So what is the solution? Well…that part is more involved. I will say, there should be a significantly greater number of documented projects at hackathons and workshops where your evangelists are present (as well as social media activity) than the ones where they aren’t there. Hackathons and workshops are not happy hour, they are “help people build stuff” time. If your evangelist does not materially impact the number of people using (and successfully completing) projects with your technology at events they attend, you should “reconsider” that spend.
Great evangelism does not happen behind a table, it looks like this (with apologies to Steven Xing and Jeremy Foster):